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Why There’s an American High School in Communist Cuba

If you’re ever invited to Guantanamo Bay, don’t go. Without any context it sounds like a pleasant place but visitors have reported the water activities being less than enjoyable. Of course the name of the American Guantanamo Bay military prison is known worldwide but it’s worth pointing out that that’s here, in Cuba, which is not exactly the friendliest country to the US or vice versa.
This is US territory and it probably seems weird that the US would have territory in a country so hostile to it, at least historically, but it does. In fact, Guantanamo has thousands of residents and an enormous naval base so here’s your 90 second history of why Guantanamo Bay is American. In the 19th century Cuba was part of Spain but it didn’t want to be part of Spain so it revolted. The US didn’t like Spain so it was down with the idea of Cuba not being Spanish so it sent some military there to help with the revolt but then one of the American ships exploded, a bunch of people died, the press blamed Spain even though there wasn’t really any proof, and the US was like na-uh and went to actual war against Spain—they called it the Spanish-American war. Now that it was actual war, not just pretendsies war, the US send a ton of troops to Cuba, kicked out the Spanish, and decided Cuba was theirs but then Congress said that the US wasn’t allowed to keep Cuba. They had to give Cuba back to Cuba but Congress also said that they could keep some land for military bases in order to, in some really super skeptical quotation marks, “enable the United States to maintain independence of Cuba.” So, in 1903, the new Cuban government, once again in big old skeptical quotation marks, “agreed” to lease the land around Guantanamo
Bay to the US government indefinitely for $2000 in gold coin each year. Of course fifty years later there was yet another Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro went all communist on the island but, of course, the US didn’t care and, from Cuba’s side, it’s hard to ask the world’s strongest military power to just leave. Quite kindly, though, the US has increased their yearly payment to $4,085 since gold prices have increased. They now send checks instead of gold but these annual checks have not been cashed since the Cuban revolution except for in 1959 when it was deposited, at least according to Fidel Castro, by mistake. So still today this completely non-controversial and totally legit base remains. Of course, it’s known as the home to the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison but it’s a lot more than that—it’s a fully-fledged US naval base home to almost 6,000 people. Like really any US military base that’s not in an active war zone, Guantanamo Bay is home to civilians—both non-military workers and the families of many of those working on base. That means that there are American kids living in Guantanamo Bay—more than 300 of them. Being in a country that officially doesn’t actually want the base to exist, Guantanamo is the only base where personnel are not actually allowed to leave the base—they fly in at the start of their term there and fly out at the end without ever going into actual Cuba—which means that it’s especially important that the base feels like home. All US bases put particular effort into making sure they seem American. That’s why they have McDonalds, seriously. The Guantanamo McDonalds is, of course, the only McDonalds in Cuba and, in fact, it’s one of many American brands there. There’s also a Baskin Robbins, a Subway, a KFC, and a Pizza Hut. US bases will also build houses that look like they belong in any old American suburb.
These are the actual houses on the Guantanamo bay base. It’s not just there—here are the houses on Ramstein Air Base in Germany and here are the ones on Kadena Air Base in Japan. Making the housing look American is a sort of psychological trick used to reduce home sicknesses but the main thing they need so the kids have an American experience growing up is an American style high school so Guantanamo Bay has exactly that.
In Guantanamo Bay is the W.T. Sampson Elementary and High School. This school operates exactly like any high school within the US. It’s accredited as a US school and all its students and teachers are American. Really the only thing that makes it unique is that it’s in Cuba and, by being that, it is the only accredited American high school in a communist country. The school even has a track, field, and sports teams. Since it’s the only school on base the teams play against recreational adult teams for those working on the base but, the one sport that they don’t have is football because, and this is the real reason given, they figure it wouldn’t be a great idea to have middle and high schoolers play football against soldiers which seems smart.

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Physiotherapist and Political Analyst

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